Today's Focus

Current Goal: Eliminate Mortgage on Rental Property

January 1, 2019: $59,592
November 26, 2019: $55,589

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Saturday, December 7

Preparing for a Cash Avalanche in 2020

I've started to think about my 2020 finances.  2019 seemed like a tight year, so I looked back to see where all the money went.  Besides maxing out my Roth IRA contribution, I've contributed nothing towards savings.  In fact, I've borrowed from my brokerage account to pay for improvements to the Airbnb.

So, what happened?

By year end I will have spent over $50,000 on the Airbnb.  This year I replaced all the windows with hurricane impact windows, installed new siding, and replaced the HVAC system.  The siding replacement included replacing a lot of rotten wood around the house.  Overall, the house is in really good shape now.  While there are a few other projects that I need to do, they won't cost nearly as much as what I did this year.  I'm fairly confident I'll spend under $10,000 in 2020 on the Airbnb.  That's a $40,000 difference year over year.

Rental property expenses were the second highest expense this year.  At the beginning of the year I remodeled the kitchen in one of the townhouses.  Then I decided to sell all the townhouses.  Because I sold those 5 properties, rental expenses will be lower (income will obviously be lower, too).  I'll end up spending close to $30,000 this year.  Next year the total will be much lower.

The third highest expense was for our primary residence.  I'm not ready to announce anything yet, but I am thinking hard about moving closer to our Airbnb and reducing our monthly housing costs.

Finally, all the other spending categories can fairly easily be reduced:

  • We are going to prepare meals at home more often - that's going to be tough to stick to, but it's my top commitment on a day-to-day basis.  This should lower our food cost.   
  • I had a lot of dental work this year which shouldn't repeat in 2020.  
  • I will probably buy a new car soon, which will cut down on repair costs.  
  • Last, I plan to be smarter when planning vacations.  I will continue signing up for new credit cards to earn bonus rewards.  Right now I am working on earning 70,000 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards through a new credit card I just opened.  We will still travel next year, but hopefully the flights and hotels will be as close to free as we can get.

Taking all these actions into consideration, cash flow in 2020 should be substantial.  I'm planning to use the cash to build up my brokerage account (basically "repay" the withdrawals I've made this year), pay down the mortgage on one of my rental properties, and build cash reserves for the next recession.  

Thursday, December 5

My Frugal Miser - November Income: $6,714

My November income was less than usual.  I worked one meeting plus a one-day event at the airport.  Airbnb income was impacted by the 11 days it was offline for the window and siding installation, plus another 3 days I blocked because we were out of town.  I also have one vacant rental property. 

The good news is December will be better.  I've already booked most of the month at the Airbnb.  Amazon will be busy because of the holidays, and we have a three day meeting in New York.

November Income: $6,714

$258 Mystery Shopping
$934 Meeting Jobs
$0 Gig Apps (Rideshare, Scooter Charging, etc.)
$412 Amazon Deliveries
$3,594 Rental Income
$1,478 Airbnb Income
$36 Interest Income
$1 Other Sources

Investment Accounts Change in Value:  $4,817

Even though I've been converting more investments to cash, my stock market investments continued to climb.

Tuesday, December 3

My Frugal Miser - November Expenses: $7,589

November continues the trend this year:  overspending.  I've managed to spend more in 2019 that I've taken in as income.  Of course, a big part of that has been investing in our business.

I would really like to lower our spending on food next year (it's been averaging $500/month).  Last month $200 was spent on restaurant meals.  We stayed two nights in New York as part of the China trip and worked one meeting where our meals were not covered.  Our most expensive restaurant meal was only $25, so we weren't exactly gluttons.  One of my goals next year is to cut back on restaurant meals.

There were some larger expenses.  While there weren't any car repairs last month, I did pay $383 to renew my auto insurance for six months and spent roughly $250 on gas.  Last month I drove to Birmingham which accounted for a big part of the gas I used.  We went to China, which accounts for the $1,000+ we spent on fun.  The only other larger than normal expense was the $216 I spent on Christmas gifts.

Business expenses were just under $3,000.  I paid annual HOA dues on a property and fire dues on the condo.  I also have a maintenance agreement for the HVAC system at one of my properties and made the semi-annual payment for that.  The Airbnb expenses include utilities and supplies.  There is still one payment left on the windows and siding, which I thought I would have to pay in November, but the company still has a little work left to complete.

November Business Spending:  $2,756
November Personal Spending:  $4,832

November Expenses:  $7,589

$637 Auto (service, gas, insurance, AAA, etc.)
$50 Bank Fees
$22 Clothing/ Personal Care
$1,054 Fun (vacations movies, gambling, alcohol, concert tickets)
$593 Food
$406 Health and Dental
$1,543 Household/Mortgage Payment/Home Repair
$12 Interest Expense
$218 Miscellaneous
$161 Taxes includes quarterly tax payments
$0 App Jobs Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$35 Unreimbursed Job Expenses
$22 Reimbursed Job Expenses
$136 Utilities
$1,899 Rental Property Expenses
$801 AirBNB Expenses

Friday, November 29

Our $299 Chinese Vacation

Inside the T12 Mall in Wuxi
Earlier this month we returned from a 10 day trip to mainland China.  The experience is one I will never forget, and the price was unreal:  $299/person, plus a mandatory $180/person gratuity and the cost of a Chinese Visa. 

The tour price included airfare from New York to Beijing, Beijing to Shanghai, and Shanghai back to New York.  All of our hotels were included as well as breakfast.  Admission to several sites, including the Great Wall, plus the tour bus and guide, were all included.

The catch?  Considering the cost of our plane tickets alone would be more than $299, it's hard to believe we got such a bargain.  However, there was a "catch":  we were required to make several shopping stops on the tour, but even those were interesting (more about that below).


Entrance to the Forbidden City
We arrived in Beijing in the middle of the night after a delayed flight.  By the time we arrived at the hotel it was after 4 in the morning, and our tour was heading to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in just a few hours.  This made for a difficult first couple of days as everyone in our group was recovering from the long flight and lack of sleep.  

We stayed at the first hotel, the Chun Hui Yuan Resort, for three nights.  The Beijing part of our tour was very physically active, and my body was sore from the long flight and all the walking.  Fortunately, our resort had natural hot springs-fed hot tubs in each of the rooms.  After a long day of sightseeing, what a relief to soak in the oversized hot tub!  

On our second full day we visited the Great Wall.  What an experience!  It was cool and wet that day, which ended up being a blessing because of all the stairs we climbed.  While our tour guide was with us the entire time we visited the Forbidden City, she let us explore the Great Wall on our own.  That was a real treat because everyone had different physical abilities.  My partner and I chose the "steep" side to climb because there were far fewer tourists to compete with.  What a workout!  

Our tour cost was subsidized by the Chinese government.  It seems like this is a standard way of doing things if you take a group tour in China.  In exchange for an unbelievable price, you have a few mandatory "shopping" trips.  Our first was to a Chinese Herbal Institute, where we learned about traditional Chinese medicine through herbs.   I enjoyed this stop.  We were in a classroom setting and a doctor taught us about ancient Chinese medicine.  While he did this, students at the institute gave each of us a free foot massage and soak in some sort of herb water.  This was exhilarating after all the walking we did in Beijing.  After the doctor spoke, more doctors entered the room to check our palms to identify ailments we had.  This was pretty hokey.  A doctor felt my hands and, through a translator, said I needed to lose weight and take something for my liver.  Everyone in our group had some ailment that an expensive prescription of herbal supplements would treat.  I took a pass on that but tipped the student 20 Yuan (less than $3) for the massage.


Shanghai's Skyline
After three nights in Beijing, our group flew to Shanghai.  We started this leg of the tour in Suzhou, where we visited the Garden of Master of the Nets.  We also visited a silk factory, another one of the mandatory stops.  Again, it was an interesting stop, as we were educated about silk and then allowed to roam the massive silk store.  I caved here and ended up buying a couple of silk shirts.  I figured it would be nice to take something home I could actually use.  We took a boat ride along a canal and saw some unique architecture.  We stayed the night at the Pan Pacific Suzhou.  As with all our hotels, it was beautiful!  There were extensive gardens in the courtyard of the hotel.  Several from our group walked down the street for dinner.  My partner tried chicken feet, but I couldn't do it!

The next day we visited Wuxi.  Interestingly, the city of Wuxi requires tour groups to use a local guide, so we met up with a second guide who traveled with us that day.  I felt like this was one of the ways China stimulates its economy.  Our second guide was great, but it seemed unnecessary to use two guides just for this one stop.  We visited a huge park on a lake.  Also had another shopping stop at a pearl factory.  This was my least favorite stop as I care very little about pearls, but it was neat to see a shell opened up and the pearls that were inside.  We spent the night at the Grand Park Wuxi, which was in the heart of the city center.  Whereas most of our hotels were fairly isolated, this one was walkable.  We went with a couple of people from our group to the T12 mall, which was across the street from our hotel.  It was really cool to see what a Chinese mall looked like.  This one was vertical - 12 stories - but was fairly similar to an American mall, just with different stores.

Tea Trees!
Following Wuxi, we headed to Hangzhou.  The mandatory stop here was my favorite:  we visited a tea plantation.  The bus meandered down narrow roads along a valley surrounded by tea trees.  It was one of the most beautiful drives of our trip.  We arrived at an educational tea plantation which had several classrooms along with ornate landscaping.  The presenter told us how the Chinese consume tea (literally, they "eat" tea, since the traditional method includes the actual tea leaves, which you can chew up and swallow).  Once again, we succumbed to the experience and I ended up buying some tea.  We bought a big bag and some small tin containers to divide the tea to give as gifts.  Later that day we visited West Lake, a huge park with gardens and water and a view of the Hangzhou skyline. That night, we stayed at my favorite hotel, the Grand New Century Hotel Radio & TV Zhejiang.  This was by far everyone's favorite, luxurious even by American standards.  

Onward to Shanghai, where things took a turn, for me at least.  The bus ride from Hangzhou to Shanghai was long, over 3 hours.  We stopped for lunch at a rest area, which is where I think I got food poisoning.  When we arrived in Shanghai, we visited the Bund, a river walk along the Huangpu River with amazing views of the city skyline.   Then as the sun set, we headed to a dock to take a boat ride on the river.  This is a must-do activity (it was an optional add on at $45/each).  The Shanghai skyline lights up after dark like no other city.  It was mesmerizing.  But by this point, I was beginning to feel sick to my stomach.  I figured I just needed to use the bathroom.  Most public restrooms in China are disgusting, so we never even considered using them.  The have squatters for toilets - basically holes in the floor.  There is no soap or hot water, so not very hygienic.  I made it to our hotel, the Rezen Hotel Shanghai Zhiwei Century, where we would spend the final two nights.  Our plan for the last full day was to do our own thing.  I had downloaded the Didi app, which is the Chinese version of Uber.  But our plans changed.  That first night, I was awake most of the night, sick.  I've never had a stomach ache like I had.  It had to be food poisoning.  The next morning I skipped the free breakfast.  Unfortunately, I couldn't step away from the bathroom for more than 10-15 minutes, so we ended up stuck in the hotel room the entire day.  We made the most of it though.  I had downloaded a VPN prior to our trip which enabled us to use Netflix just like we were back home.  We watched a couple of movies, I drank a lot of Sprite, and we made the best of a bad situation.  The second night I was still in a pretty bad place, but things were beginning to improve.  I made it to breakfast the next morning, but barely ate a thing.  We had several hours before we needed to head to the airport, but I was just too queasy to venture away from the hotel.

Despite the food poisoning, we had an amazing trip overall.  While in China we spent just under $1,000 over 8 days.  This included optional tours, lunch and dinner, the tea and silk purchases, and a few small souvenirs to give as gifts.  Together with the tour package, gratuities and visa (which is valid for 10 years in case we decide to go again), the all-in trip for two cost about $2,500.